When Lori Elizabeth Allen was separated from her children about 30 years ago, she no longer wanted to live.
Her three young children went to live with their father. Allen said she felt as if she also lost herself then, not knowing who she was anymore.
So she turned to drugs and alcohol, eventually living on the streets in Long Beach.
“I just felt that anything I could do to myself, without me taking my own life, was OK with God,” Allen, 54, said in a Wednesday interview. “But I was kidding myself.”
But a few weeks ago, Allen, who has been diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer, decided to accept help after being homeless on and off for about 20 years. Officers with the Long Beach Police Department’s Quality of Life team – which focuses on connecting the homeless population to resources and services – had talked with Allen over the past few years and eventually took her to the Multi-Service Center earlier this month, where she now has a place to stay.
“Those officers never looked at any one of us closely for anything that they may or may not have been doing (such as drug use),” she said, audibly holding back tears. “They really just wanted to get us help. I love them forever for that.”
Patrol Resource Officer Abraham Mercado, who has worked in the north division for about 15 years, said he has grown to know Allen for several years. He would see her along railroad tracks, parks, or sometimes in front of businesses.
Anytime Mercado offered Allen assistance in the past, she declined.
That’s fairly common, Mercado said, as the average number of times before someone decides to accept the help is 18 interactions. The “help” ranges in degree, from accepting a meal to being placed in a shelter, he said.
But when Mercado and Officer Arturo Trujillo – who works on the Quality of Life team, also in the north division – met with Allen a few weeks ago, they were happily surprised to hear a different response from her.
“Sometimes it takes a lot of trying, being persistent and contacting them every day,” Trujillo said. “It made me feel good and even better receiving an email about how thankful she was. She was pretty much waiting to die in her tent for someone to find her, I’m glad she’ll have some sort of dignity for the rest of her life.”
There are five officers who are on the department’s Quality of Life team, with officers assigned to divisions so they can get to know the homeless population in that area, police spokeswoman Arantxa Chavarria said. The team also works closely with the Mental Evaluation Team, which has six officers who are paired with civilian health professionals.
“Getting them help doesn’t mean they’re in trouble,” Chavarria said. “That’s not what these officers are doing.”
Allen, who was sleeping in a tent on Paramount Boulevard when she accepted help from officers Mercado and Trujillo, said it was a culmination of factors that led her to accept help this time.
“There were so many times Officer Mercado himself tried to get me help, that I can’t even count them,” Allen said. “But I can tell you this, I was ready that day. I decided to let it all go, to see what they could do for me. And I was overwhelmed by what they can do for me.”
Allen reached out to the Police Department shortly after she was taken to the Multi-Service Center, to thank Mercado and Trujillo.
Caroline Schlott, a police dispatcher, was the one who picked up the phone.
Most calls Schlott said she receives about homeless people are from residents who are upset that someone is sleeping in an alley, or trash on the streets. Rarely do dispatchers or officers get to hear about what happens after someone is going through something, she said.
“There’s always this other type of person who is homeless beyond no fault of their own, necessarily, or they’re just trying to get by because they have lost everything,” Schlott said. “To know that there are resources for them if they’re willing to take that step and get help, it makes everything that we do here worthwhile. Even if it’s one person who gets help.”
Anabel Garcia, who has been helping Allen at the Multi-Service Center, said she has learned a lot from her. Allen has been accepting many of the services and radiates energy at the Multi-Service Center, she said.
“Once you start working with clients, you understand more and you get insight as to what happened, you get their story and you realize it is more common than you’d think,” Garcia said. “I’ve been working with the homeless population for about four years, and each story still gets me.”
Since being given a room at a motel through the center, Allen said she’s quit drinking and doing drugs. She’s also picked up some arts and crafts.
Allen has also been in contact with some of her children, who are now in their 30s, and some now have children of their own.
After getting help herself, Allen said she wants to help others, including giving a “blessing” for each person she comes across. Allen’s been in a lot of pain because of the cancer spreading, and doctors tell her she likely does not have much longer to live.
But she’s beyond grateful for the officers who helped her, whom she calls her “heroes.”
“Every second of every minute of every day, I will not waste,” Allen said. “I really believe I am drunk in love with those officers, for what they did for me and others.”